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Planning commission sets work sessions for solar ordinance

The discussion regarding industrial solar sites in Clark County will continue, this time with a series of work sessions for the Winchester-Clark County Planning Commission.

The commission recently scheduled three work sessions on Dec. 14, 16 and 21 to discuss how to proceed with the issue.

During the summer, planning officials were presented with a proposed ordinance to establish a procedure for allowing industrial solar projects in Clark County. Since then, it has become a highly-charged issue in the county, with one public meeting canceled for an open meeting violation and an appointed committee meeting, which the former planning commission chair said was hijacked by one side of the issue.

During a meeting last week, the planning commission scheduled three work sessions for the commission at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14, 16 and 21. The meetings will be on Zoom and will be available to the public.

The Clark Coalition, a group opposing industrial solar, decried the work sessions in a recent open letter.

Wednesday, Clark Coalition Executive Director Will Mayer asked the Clark County Fiscal Court to recommend a one-year moratorium on the matter to allow more public input. Mayer said the work sessions without public input was an “affront” to the community and the process.

The moratorium, Mayer said, would allow for the county comprehensive plan update to begin as scheduled in 2021, allow for further public input and allow COVID to hopefully be resolved.

“The people of Clark County deserve a process they can be proud of,” Mayer said

Former planning commission chair Dwain Wheeler, who resigned earlier this month, said the scheduled work sessions were for the commission members to have a discussion among themselves.

An email to commission vice chair Shane Wiseman was not returned prior to The Sun’s print deadline Thursday.

“It’s the commission having a discussion itself,” Wheeler said. “They’re still public meetings.”

Wheeler said there will be a public hearing with input at a later date. The work sessions, he said, were to discuss the situation as a whole, including whether to have an ordinance or not.

The commission, he said, can not implement an ordinance. That authorities lies with the Clark County Fiscal Court or the Winchester Board of Commissioners.

Earlier this fall, the planning commission attempted to have a public hearing at Central Baptist Church and online, but the meeting was canceled before it began. Attorneys representing the planning commission and the coalition believed there was an open meeting violation by one of the commission members, which could have jeopardized any action taken during that meeting.

Following that, Wheeler proposed creating a committee with representatives from both sides of the issue but that failed as well.

In its letter, the coalition said Zoom meetings are “inadequate and legally problematic.”

“There is no substitute for in-person meetings, especially on matters of county-wide consequence such as industrial solar facilities,” said the letter, signed by Mayer, Coalition Chair Edwin Gilkison and Directors Deborah Garrison and Mark Mayer. “The issue of whether or not to permit industrial solar is of monumental importance. The process to determine its appropriateness should not be short-changed, or made without the widespread involvement of Clark Countians … so that a few can profit at the expense of many.”

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0051.

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